“Not guilty.” Those were the words of Donald Trump as the court clerk reads the 34 charges against him in a Manhattan Criminal court Tuesday afternoon.
The former president surrendered and was arrested Tuesday before arraingment before the court. Prosecutors believe Mr Trump attempted to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election, which he won, by paying huge amounts of money to women who he might have had extramarital affairs with.
Prominent among them is the claim that Mr Trump illegally paid $130,000 to adult star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 US presidential election to suppress negative information that would hurt his winning chances.
“From August 2015 to December 2017, [Mr Trump] orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects,” the statement of facts says.
Apart from the payments made to suppress negative information, Mr Trump was also accused by prosecutors of “repeatedly and fraudulently falsifying New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the public during the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, who is also a candidate in the country’s 2024 presidential election, pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Interestingly, during the arraignment, Judge Juan Merchan warned Trump and the prosecutors to refrain from making statements that could lead to civil unrest.
“Please refrain from making comments or engaging in conduct that has the potential to incite violence, create civil unrest, or jeopardize the safety or well-being of any individuals. Also, please do not engage in words or conduct which jeopardizes the rule of law, particularly as it applies to these proceedings in this courtroom,” Judge Merchan stated.
But soon after leaving the courtroom, Mr Trump addressed his supporters in Mar-a-Lago, and he had some very tough words for his opposers.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America”
Upon leaving the courtroom, Mr Trump was at Mar-a-Lago to address his supporters. The 76-year-old described his trial as a clear case of election interference, saying he never thought something as it could happen in America.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America. Never thought it could happen,” Trump stated. “This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election. And it should be dropped immediately.”
Mr Trump insisted that he had no case to answer and that he was being persecuted by the prosecutors.
“As it turns out, virtually everybody that has looked at this case including RINOs and even hardcore Democrats says there is no crime, and that it should never have been brought. Never have been brought. Never brought it,” he said.
Expectedly, Mr Trump, like in previous times, criticized the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for bringing up such cases against him.
“He knew there was no case. That’s why last week he delayed for a month and then immediately took that back and threw this ridiculous indictment together,” the former president said.
Without mincing his words, Mr Trump said he had “a Trump-hating judge,” referring to Judge Juan Merchan, who is handling the cases brought against him.
When is the next hearing?
The case involving Mr Trump is far from over and could linger into the 2024 election season and even more. The next in-person hearing date would be on December 4.
Trump’s legal team is expected to file any motions before August 8, and the prosecution has to respond on or before September 19.
The weaponization of the federal justice process
Members of parliament, senators, and other top Republicans have accused the Manhattan District Attorney of interfering in the democratic process.
“Alvin Bragg is attempting to interfere in our democratic process by invoking federal law to bring politicized charges against President Trump, admittedly using federal funds, while at the same time arguing that the people’s representatives in Congress lack jurisdiction to investigate this farce. Not so. Bragg’s weaponization of the federal justice process will be held accountable by Congress,” McCarthy tweeted.
Trump’s legal team has argued that election cases are covered under federal laws and that treating such cases under state laws was the wrong thing to do.
Even strong critics of Donald Trump have condemned his prosecution. One such critic is Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Although he believed Mr Trump is unfit to be president, he argued that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg was setting a very “dangerous precedent” by persecuting political opponents.
“I believe President Trump’s character and conduct make him unfit for office,” Sen Romney stated. “Even so, I believe the New York prosecutor has stretched to reach felony criminal charges in order to fit a political agenda. No one is above the law, not even former presidents, but everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. The prosecutor’s overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.”
With the 2024 elections speedily approaching, supporters and opposers of Donald Trump within the Republican party believe Joe Biden and other political actors are behind the former president’s ordeal. But they are also confident of victory.
Elise Stefanik, an ally of the former president, said the case would even boost his chances of returning to the white house.
“President Trump continues to skyrocket in the polls, and just like with the Russia hoax and both sham impeachments, President Trump will defeat the latest witch-hunt, defeat Joe Biden, and will be sworn in as President of the United States in January 2025,” Stefanik said in a statement.